Now there's a question that deserves an answer. Why did Jesus tell His disciples they are His friends? In what context was He speaking?
Us? Friends with God?
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
I'll try to contain myself, as this is one of my favorite passages (the whole of John 15), and focus on the question the searcher was asking.
Jesus Himself tells us why His disciples are His friends, very simply: "A servant does not know his master's business....everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
What makes anyone a friend of anyone else? Intimacy. Sharing. Relationship. Jesus chose to share with His disciples the keys to understanding the promised Kingdom and the Good News of cleansing and eternal life.
I don't know about you, but I find it emotionally overwhelming at times. The God of the universe, who made everything that is and who was, is, and is to come, wants to be...my friend?
The danger of being too familiar with so awesome a God, or of profaning a Name that should be revered, is always there; in a society where people freely use God's name in all the latest expletives, I don't think that should be overlooked. God isn't our "buddy," and despite the popularity of the T-shirt, Jesus is not our "homeboy." Sorry. And it's tantamount to blasphemy to be familiar with the Lord in that way, because it lacks respect and awe that He deserves. We are clay, and we have no agency apart from what's been granted to us by the Potter.
With that said, though, we have to consider the equally awesome fact that God openly declares His desire for intimacy with us. If you serve the God of Israel, the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you don't need to go to a priest, and you don't have to wait for the chosen Levite to walk to the Holy of Holies once a year. He wants to love, forgive, and embrace you right now.
He talks about obedience in this passage, too--and I love that, because it demonstrates yet again that you can't separate discipleship from submission and obedience--but notice that it's not really a blind obedience. Jesus has shared with His followers what the Father has showed Him. He had walked with His disciples daily, teaching them, showing them God's will, both for His own life and for the Kingdom that had now come. And in that same way, He walks with us now:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Once again, obedience is emphasized in connection with discipleship. And Jesus' promise to be WITH THEM to the end couldn't be clearer.
There's something that is so sweet and tender about the words "friend of God"--like the feeling of joyous disbelief you have when you realize your Beloved loves you back. I can hardly believe He wants me...much less that He wants to be my friend.
But then again, who am I to doubt what He declares?